The pre-clinical findings from identifying the mechanism were promising and suggested that targeting the microenvironment around leukemia cells could not only help fight the cancer, but "simultaneously provide relief for one of its most common and painful side-effects, bone loss", said lead author Laurence Cheung, a researcher from the Telethon Kids Cancer Centre, West Perth in Australia.
In the study, published in the journal Leukemia, the team identified a signal produced by the leukemia cells which instructed cells in the microenvironment to eat away at the bone.
The researchers then used a commercially available drug to target the cells in the microenvironment around the leukemia cells.
"Importantly, we found that this not only compensated for the leukemia-dependent bone fragility, but also reduced leukemia progression," Cheung said.
"To date, the main strategy for cancer therapy in children has focused on targeting malignant cells with chemotherapy, which is toxic for the leukemia cells but also toxic for the patient.
"Our finding that the cells surrounding the leukemia cells can contribute to treatment failure or success has led to a paradigm shift.
"It means this potentially could be a powerful adjuvant therapy. It's not going to replace chemotherapy, but we propose that using chemotherapy and treating the microenvironment at the same time will have more benefit than just the chemotherapy by itself," Cheung said.
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